Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Don’t Screw This Up

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 17: Philipp Kurashev #23 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Alexandre Carrier #45 of the Nashville Predators battle for position in front of Juuse Saros #74 at the United Center on December 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Predators defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 17: Philipp Kurashev #23 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Alexandre Carrier #45 of the Nashville Predators battle for position in front of Juuse Saros #74 at the United Center on December 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Predators defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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In their first meeting of 2022-23, the Nashville Predators will look to keep their momentum rolling from Monday’s overtime win into a matchup with the last-place Chicago Blackhawks.

The Predators ended their six-game losing streak on Monday with a 4-3 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers, a franchise that had dominated them since 2019.

It’s a much different opponent on Wednesday in Chicago. The Blackhawks are a team going nowhere except the fast track to winning the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, but quite frankly the Predators aren’t too far ahead of them in that respect.

Over the past two seasons, the Nashville Predators have owned this series going 10-0-2 and outscoring the Blackhawks 40-22 in those games.

Reinforcements are Arriving for the Nashville Predators

A couple boosts to the lineup came on Monday against the Oilers as Tommy Novak made his season debut, and Alexandre Carrier returned to the defensive unit that was missing four starters at one point.

Novak quickly made his presence known by generating a rebound for Mattias Ekholm to push in for a goal, and Carrier scored the game-winner in overtime after deciding to take the shot himself over passing it on the odd-man rush.

The Predators are expected to be getting a major addition back to the lineup with Ryan McDonagh, who has been out since December 2. That sent rookie Jordan Gross, who played well in his absence, back to the Milwaukee Admirals on Tuesday.

Now that the Predators at least have their full complement of defensemen back, it should mean easier days for Juuse Saros and Kevin Lankinen between the pipes. Or at least, in theory, that should be the case.

Going to See an Old Friend…

Oh, the Chicago Blackhawks. A once proud dynasty that has turned into arguably the worst team in the NHL. Just going off the standings, they are the worst with a record of 7-19-4. They have the NHL’s second-worst goal differential at minus-48, and a home record of 4-11-2.

So we should have nothing to worry about tonight, right? Wrong. We all know the Nashville Predators take whole periods off and anyone in this league can make you pay for that. Not to mention, it’s a division game and these teams have no love lost.

I don’t believe in tanking, and most teams just let their lack of talent and leadership take care of that. That’s kind of how I see the Blackhawks. They’re young, lack the superstar talent they once had stacked up, and statistically rank near the bottom in many key categories including goal scoring.

Unfortunately, the Nashville Predators struggle to score as well. But hey, at least the power play curse is over after

Matt Duchene

tallied one on Monday?

The Blackhawks are expected to roll out Petr Mrazek between the pipes. A veteran goaltender whose best years are long behind him and has a sub 90 save percentage in five of his last six starts.

It’s unknown who the Predators will go with, but this seems like a good spot to give Kevin Lankinen the start. Saros has started the last three games, and this would be a great homecoming game for Lankinen against his former team.

Although not the superstar he once was, Patrick Kane still leads the Blackhawks in points this season with 22. He has feasted on the power play getting 13 of his 22 points with the man advantage.

Kane is also all over the trade rumor mill and it feels like it’s a matter of “when”, not “if”, he gets sent to a Stanley Cup contender before March’s deadline. He has been linked to the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and plenty others.

After you get past the 34-year-old Jonathan Toews and leading goal scorer Max Domi, the Blackhawks are extremely thin in their depth on both ends. This team doesn’t have to intentionally tank, they’re just that bad.

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What the Predators Need to Do for a Win…

Avoid the self-inflicted wounds is a start. They arguably played their most complete game of the season on Monday in a 4-3 win over a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. I know the Oilers underperform, but talent wise they’re up there with anyone in the NHL.

The Predators still need to be weary about too many trips to the penalty box, even against the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks, for all of their troubles, are ranked in the middle of the NHL in power play. Just don’t give them any gift goals.

Secondly, the Predators need to bottle up whatever they did on Monday replicate it. That means hard forechecking and making the Blackhawks uncomfortable in their own zone. Force turnovers on their end, which should be a much easier task than against Connor McDavid and company.

Finally, just find those shot lanes and crowd Mrazek. Look for the deflections and rebound goals. That’s how this Predators team usually thrives on offense, not by being overly flashy.

Bally Sports South, ESPN+. Wednesday, Dec 21. 7-19-4. 7:30 PM CT. 13-13-4. 151. 94.

This is a game you can’t leave without the two points. Losing this game will erase any momentum you built from Monday. We’re talking about a Blackhawks team that hasn’t won in nearly three weeks and has been held to one goal in three-straight games.

Treat them like they’re the best team in the NHL and you should have the overall talent to handedly win this game. Puck drop is 7:30 CT from the Windy City.